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How GERD Affects the Digestive System

For people who have GERD, the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach either opens at the wrong time or is weak and doesn't completely close off the opening to the stomach. When this happens, stomach juices and food particles can flow back up into the esophagus more often than normal.
If stomach juices stay in the esophagus for long periods of time, or if acid reflux happens frequently, the natural way the esophagus protects itself from stomach juices may simply be overwhelmed. The lining of the esophagus may become irritated, which can lead to heartburn. Over time, GERD can lead to:
  • Bleeding
  • Scarring and narrowing of the esophagus
  • The formation of ulcers.

What Are GERD Symptoms?

The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. It can be frequent, severe, and/or constant. The pain or discomfort usually starts in the middle of the chest, and can move up through the throat.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

The cause or causes of GERD are not known; however, there are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition. These factors are referred to as risk factors. These same risk factors can also make your symptoms worse. Having risk factors does not guarantee that you will have GERD, but it makes it more likely.
Common GERD risk factors include:
  • Pregnancy
  • Use of tobacco products
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Dietary factors
  • Certain medications
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Use of alcohol
  • Stress.
Other common symptoms include:
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling like you are choking or your throat is tight
  • Sensation of food stuck in the throat
  • Acidic or sour taste in the mouth (acid indigestion)
  • Difficult or painful swallowing.
It is also possible for a person with the condition to have one or several of these other symptoms of GERD, but not have heartburn.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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